History of Soccer in Toronto

The first game of Association Football (soccer) played in Canada took place in Toronto on 21 October 1876. It was hosted by the Carlton Cricket Club, and played on Winchester Street, in Cabbagetown, between the Cricket Club and the Toronto Lacrosse Club. According to the Globe, the game ended in a tie, “without any advantage to either party.” Months later, on 21 February 1877, the Dominion Football Association was founded in Toronto, the first organized soccer association outside of Britain. In 1908, a Scotsman named Tom Robertson formed the Toronto & District (T&D) League. Robertson went on to become Secretary-Treasurer of the T&D League as well as the Ontario Soccer Association, and helped found the Dominion of Canada Football Association in 1912.

In 1926, the National Soccer League (NSL) was established; the NSL was a semi-professional circuit featuring teams from Southern Ontario, as well as several teams from Montreal. Toronto teams dominated the league, as Toronto Ulster United won three consecutive championships from 1932 to 1934. (The NSL continues to this day as the Canadian Soccer League.)

Another league, the Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League, was founded in 1961 and included four teams: Hamilton Steelers, Montreal Cantalia, Toronto Italia and Toronto City. The Toronto City club was known for jetting famous players over from England for the summer, including such luminaries as Sir Stanley Matthews, Northern Ireland and Tottenham Hotspur captain Danny Blanchflower, and England and Fulham FC captain Johnny Haynes. The league's last season was in the summer of 1966.

Two new leagues took hold in 1967, the United Soccer Association (USA) and the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). Toronto had a representative in each: Toronto City (USA) and Toronto Falcons (NPSL). Neither league was successful, and had to merge in 1968, forming the famous North American Soccer League (NASL). The Toronto Falcons played in the league for one year, but folded after the 1968 season due to financial troubles.

Toronto's next professional team was the Toronto Metros, which started playing in the NASL in 1971.Their most successful season was 1973, when they topped their division and made it to the playoff semifinals. In 1975, half of the team stake was sold to Toronto Croatia of the NSL, becoming the Toronto Metros-Croatia. With the help of the ageing Portuguese legend Eusébio, Metros-Croatia won the NASL Soccer Bowl in 1976. Metros-Croatia continued to struggle financially despite its success on the field and was re-branded for a third time in 1978 — this time as Toronto Blizzard. The Blizzard reached the Soccer Bowl in 1983 and 1984, but lost both games. After the NASL folded in 1984, the club transitioned to the Canadian Soccer League in 1987, but folded in 1993.

Toronto Lynx rose to fill the gap in 1997, taking a spot in the A-League, which was later re-named United Soccer League (USL) Division 1. In 2006, they chose to move to the USL Premier Development League in advance of the arrival of Toronto FC. They have since re-branded and joined the developmental League 1 Ontario as the Oakville Blue Devils. Many great Canadian players have come through the ranks of Toronto Lynx, including Dwayne De Rosario, Paul Stalteri, Atiba Hutchinson, Pat Onstad and Adrian Serioux. The women's team, Toronto Lady Lynx, has included national team players Allysha Chapman, Jonelle Filigno, Kadeisha Buchanan and Nichelle Prince, among others.

Toronto FC Founding

Major League Soccer (MLS), North America’s top professional men’s soccer league, was founded in 1993, riding a crest of optimism following the 1994 World Cup hosted by the United States. The league started with 10 teams in 1996, but struggled until the mid-2000s. At that time, MLS expanded aggressively, possibly spurred by the success of the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2002 World Cup. Two teams, Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake, were added to the league in 2005.

Later that year, in October 2005, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) president Richard Peddie announced the arrival of a new Toronto franchise to Major League Soccer (MLS), the first outside the United States. The Toronto Star reported the franchise fee as US$10 million. MLSE’s aim was to build a new stadium at Exhibition Place and play in the 2007 season. The name Toronto FC was unveiled by MLSE Chairman Larry Tannenbaum on 11 May 2006. The name was chosen because it topped an online poll, but also because MLSE preferred to brand the team along European lines — FC initials, for “football club” are common among European clubs, including FC Barcelona and Liverpool FC. European club nicknames are typically thought up by club supporters; “Blaugrana” or “Barça” for Barcelona and“The Reds” for Liverpool. Toronto FC is also nicknamed The Reds.

On 8 September 2006, Toronto signed its first player, Canadian international Jim Brennan, a defenceman. He was introduced by coach Mo Johnston in a press conference, and was later named the first captain of the club. The rest of the players were either picked up through an expansion draft or signed separately. One of the better known players was English striker Danny Dichio, who scored the first regular season goal for Toronto FC on 12 May 2007. The goal came in the 24th minute, which prompted the crowd to throw promotional seat cushions on the pitch at BMO Field. To this day, at the 24th minute of each TFC home game, the crowd sings a song in Dichio's honour. The goal was part of the club’s first win, a 3–1 victory over Chicago Fire.

Jim Brennan became the first Canadian to score for Toronto FC, in a 2–2 draw against Columbus Crew on 26 May, and Miguel Canizalez was the first Canadian to score in Canada when he scored in a 1–2 loss on 22 September, also against Columbus Crew. TFC was in a deep slump when Canizalez scored, having not scored in 824 minutes (about nine games) — a league record at the time. Despite a last-place finish in the league and a wins-draws-losses record of 6–6–17, Toronto FC games had an average attendance of 20,130 — a pattern of robust support that would continue regardless of on-field troubles.

2008–2013

Toronto FC continued to struggle in the next few seasons. Though the team finished the 2008 season with a slightly improved record of 9–13–8, they again finished last in the MLS Eastern Conference. In 2008, the team signed Dwayne De Rosario, a Canadian international and regular goal scorer with Houston Dynamo. His play during the 2009 season, along with that of 2004 league MVP Amado Guevara, nearly brought TFC to the playoffs. They were also helped by the club’s first Designated Player (DP), Julian de Guzman, who was signed late in the season. (DPs are players whose contracts would ordinarily push the team payroll over the league salary cap. With the DP rule, only a portion of the contract counts towards the cap, while the rest of the salary is paid for by the team, rather than the league. It was commonly known as the “David Beckham” rule, as the Englishman was the first such player, signing for LA Galaxy in 2007.) Originally from Toronto, de Guzman had been playing for Deportivo de La Coruña in Spain. Despite strong play from de Guzman, Guevara and De Rosario, Toronto lost its final game against the New York Red Bulls (5–0), which bumped Toronto from the playoffs.

Mo Johnston, general manager, hired North American soccer legend Predrag Radosavljević (Preki) as head coach ahead of the 2010 season. The season didn't go to plan, and both Johnston and Preki were replaced late in the season. The team missed the playoffs again, despite 15 goals scored by Dwayne De Rosario, the third-highest goal-scorer in the league.

In 2010, the club took a new tactical approach, hiring Jürgen Klinsmann and his consultancy firm, SoccerSolutions, to assess the state of the franchise and lay out a roadmap moving forward. Former manager of the German national team and Bayern Munich, Klinsmann suggested switching to the classic 4–3–3 “Dutch” style formation and identified former Dutch international Aron Winter as the perfect candidate to manage the team's chances. A significant roster overhaul ensued, including two new Designated Players, striker Danny Koevermans and midfielder Torsten Frings. On 19 March 2011, Toronto faced the expansion franchise Vancouver Whitecaps in the season opener at Empire Field in Vancouver. During the game, De Rosario scored the 8,000th goal in MLS history, but Vancouver beat Toronto 4–2, setting the tone for the season to come. On 1 April, Dwayne De Rosario was traded to the New York Red Bulls following a contract dispute. The Red Bulls in turn traded him to D.C. United. (De Rosario went on to score 16 goals and 12 assists before he was named the 2011 league MVP and MLS Golden Boot.) TFC finished with a 6–13–15 record and missed the playoffs once more.

TFC started the 2012 season as hopeful as ever, but multiple player injuries and a lackluster roster caused the team to struggle. The team started the season with nine losses, effectively ending playoff hopes just two months into the seven-month season. Toronto went on to win only five games in the season, finishing last in the league. Aron Winter resigned as manager and was replaced with Paul Mariner, but club fortunes could not be turned around. Julian de Guzman was traded to FC Dallas halfway through the season and Torsten Frings retired before the start of the next season.

In late 2012, Kevin Payne was brought in as general manager. He appointed Ryan Nelsen as coach in January 2013, while Nelsen was still an active player for Queen's Park Rangers in England. Payne quickly signed Argentinian midfielder Matías Laba as a Young Designated Player and overhauled the roster once again. As in previous years, the changes didn't work, and new coach Nelsen could only coax his team to a 6–17–11 record. TFC finished 9th in the Eastern Conference and 17th overall, ahead of only Chivas USA and D.C. United. Tim Leiweke was appointed MLSE president during the season and fired Payne that September, replacing him with Tim Bezbatchenko.

2014–Present

Toronto FC made two very ambitious additions to the roster before the 2014 season, signing midfielder Michael Bradley from AS Roma and striker Jermain Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur as Designated Players. Both players were in the prime of their career, a departure from previous DPs, who were largely aging stars whose skills had faded. The team also traded Laba to Vancouver to make room for a third player, Brazilian striker Gilberto, a relatively unproven youngster with plenty of promise. Dwayne De Rosario was also brought back to the squad after his acrimonious split three years earlier. The team initially performed well, aided by the confident goalkeeping of Brazilian veteran Júlio César, who was there on loan in order to warm up for the 2014 World Cup. TFC won its opening two games for the first time ever, powered by goals from Defoe. Defoe would score 11 goals over the course of the season, but injuries limited him to just 16 league appearances. Gilberto chipped in with 7 goals, finding his feet towards the end of the year. Despite TFC's best ever league record (11–15–8), the team did not make the playoffs. At the end of August, Nelsen was fired and replaced by Greg Vanney.

Jermain Defoe was traded in the off-season to Sunderland A.F.C. in exchange for US international Jozy Altidore. Meanwhile, Gilberto’s contract was waived and his DP spot was filled by Sebastian Giovinco, who was brought in from Italian club Juventus FC. Vanney held on to the coaching spot and the team again got off to a good start, beating Vancouver 3–1 in the season opener behind two Altidore goals. At times during the season the team played well, getting confidence-boosting wins over Montreal, Orlando and New York Red Bulls, but there was little consistency. The team's two longest undefeated streaks were four games each. Giovinco surpassed expectations, breaking the single season MLS points record, with 22 goals and 16 assists, and picking up the MVP award for his efforts — the first TFC player to do so. After clinching its first ever playoff spot with a 2–1 win over the Red Bulls, TFC finished the regular season with back to back losses, including one against upcoming preliminary round opponent, Montreal Impact. TFC lost 3–0 to Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.

TFC finished the 2016 regular season in third place in the MLS Eastern Conference. The club’s record of 14 wins, 9 losses and 11 ties brought them to the Knockout Round of the MLS Playoffs, where they met Philadelphia Union. TFC beat the Union 3–1 at BMO Field, on goals from Giovinco (who scored 17 in the regular season), Jonathan Osorio and Altidore.

TFC went on to face New York City FC in the Eastern Conference semifinals. New York played a defensively-minded game, while TFC laid on the attack, prevailing with two late-game goals from Altidore and Tosaint Ricketts to win 2–0. In the second leg, played at Yankee Stadium, TFC attacked aggressively and scored five unanswered goals — one each from Altidore and Osorio and three from Giovinco. TFC won the series 7–0 on aggregate and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in club history; hours earlier, Montreal had become the first Canadian club to reach that stage of the playoffs. The two teams would meet for an all-Canadian conference final.

The first leg of the Eastern Conference final was played at Olympic Stadium before a sold-out crowd of 61,004. L’Impact scored three goals in the first 53 minutes of play, before Toronto answered with two. The second leg, played at a rain-soaked BMO Field on 30 November in Toronto, finished 3–2 for TFC after 90 minutes, bringing the series to a 5–5 draw on aggregate. Toronto FC scored two goals in the first half of extra time, bringing the match score to 5–2 for TFC, who won the series 7–5 on aggregate. Goals for TFC came from Armando Cooper, Nick Hagglund, Benoit Cheyrou, Ricketts and Altidore, who became the first player to score in five consecutive playoff games. TFC became the first Canadian club to reach the MLS Championship after winning the series.

TFC hosted the championship game at BMO Field against Seattle Sounders FC, on 10 December and in sub-zero temperatures. Despite TFC’s strong attacking effort against the Sounders’ defensive play, the match was scoreless after 120 minutes. TFC lost 5–4 in the resulting penalty shootout.

Attacking midfielder Victor Vazquez signed with the club just ahead of the 2017 season, bolstering the team’s presence in the middle of the pitch. Numerous media reports touted Vazquez as the club’s missing piece. An attacking playmaker, Vazquez took pressure off Bradley, who dropped to a more defensive position in the central midfield. Toronto FC’s possession and attack-oriented 3–5–2 formation, its disciplined position play and wide attack pattern led to a league-leading 74 goals in the season (with strikers Giovinco and Altidore scoring 16 and 15 goals, respectively). TFC set several franchise records during the 2017 season, including wins (20), fewest goals allowed (37), shutouts (13), home points (42), road wins (7) and road points (27). The club won both the Voyageurs Cup and Trillium Cup, and finished the season with an MLS record 69 points (20 wins, 5 losses, 9 draws) to win the Supporters Shield — a full 12 points ahead of the next best club.

TFC had a competitive run in the playoffs, edging past the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinal (advancing on away goals after a 2–2 draw on aggregate) and the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Final (winning 1–0 on aggregate). The club returned to the MLS Cup in a rematch against the Seattle Sounders on 9 December 2017. With their relentless attacking style of play, TFC won the match 2–0 on goals from Altidore and Vazquez to become the first Canadian club to win the MLS Cup.


Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League

The Voyageurs Cup was introduced in 2002 as an award for the best Canadian team in the USL A-League. At that time, the cup was open to the Montreal Impact, Toronto Lynx, Calgary Storm and Vancouver Whitecaps. In 2008, the trophy was awarded to the winner of the Canadian Championship, a tournament that determined the Canadian entrant to the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Champions League. Toronto FC has won the Canadian Championship and the Voyageurs Cup six times, in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017.

In 2009 and 2010, TFC, the Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps competed for the cup in a round-robin format, in which each team plays all other competitors. The 2009 tournament ended in particularly dramatic fashion on 18 June 2009. TFC was in second place and needed a big win against Montreal to claim the championship from Vancouver on goal difference. They were down 1–0 after 24 minutes but roared back, with Dwayne De Rosario scoring a hat trick and leading the team to a 6–1 victory in what has since been dubbed “The Miracle of Montreal.” TFC claimed the trophy and its first invitation to the CONCACAF Champions League, a journey that was stopped short by the Puerto Rico Islanders in the preliminary round.

TFC were part of the CONCACAF Champions League on three other occasions. In the 2010–11 and 2012–13 competitions they made it to the first group stage but no further. Their best showing was during the 2011–12 tournament, in which they finished second in their group and advanced to the quarterfinals against the LA Galaxy, 2011 MLS champions. TFC tied the first game 2–2 in a raucous battle at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, in which fans repeatedly threw beer cans and streamers at David Beckham. The second game in LA was a gutsy performance by TFC, who won the match 2–1, and with it the two-game series. Their semifinal against Santos Laguna started well, as they tied the first game 1–1 in Toronto. In the second game, in Torreón, Mexico, TFC led 2–1 at one point, but fell apart in the second half, with Santos Laguna winning 6–2, and taking the series.

Fan Culture

When TFC entered the league in 2007, MLS was widely perceived as a family-friendly league, with little fanatical support and small attendances in cavernous NFL stadiums. TFC was one of the clubs that shifted this perspective by having a smaller, more intimate soccer-specific stadium with many sections full of die-hard fans. The atmosphere reflected the cosmopolitan soccer culture in Toronto, as members came from Italian, Portuguese, Caribbean, British, Brazilian and many other backgrounds to join together in support of their new club. Groups such as the Kings in the North, U-Sector, Inebriatti, Tribal Rhythmn Nation and Red Patch Boys support the club in their own ways, including drumming, chanting, waving flags and choreographed displays.

Fans have also been vocal in expressing their displeasure. In 2010, for instance, fans belted out the lyrics to Twisted Sister’s “We're Not Gonna Take It” in response to rising ticket prices and continued poor play. Fans continued to express their frustration by waving flags decorated with dollar signs and by hanging banners featuring slogans such as “Winning Before Profit” and “All For Money.”

Club support remained strong through the early years. Average attendance figures were over 20,000 per game for the first five seasons, dropping to about 18,000 for two seasons, before recovering to roughly 23,000 for 2014 and 2015. Average attendance rose to 26,583 for the 2016 season. The highest attendance at BMO Field was 36,045 on 10 December 2016 — the MLS Cup final against Seattle Sounders FC.

Youth Teams

Toronto FC founded its youth academy in 2008, including teams ranging from Under-10s to Under-16s and an Under-21 team. The U-18s and U-17s played in the Canadian Soccer League (CSL) until the end of the 2012 season, when the CSL lost its official endorsement from the Canadian Soccer Association for a number of match-fixing charges. In 2014, the U-18s started play in League 1 Ontario, a regional league with a focus on developing U-23 players and providing a pathway to the professional ranks. In 2015, Toronto FC Academy also joined the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League. Doneil Henry was the first player to graduate from the Academy and sign a professional contract. Others who have spent time with TFC Academy include Canadian internationals Ashtone Morgan, Russell Teibert and Keven Alemán.

Toronto FC also operates a development team called TFC II. The team competes in the United Soccer League and plays its home games at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan, Ontario. Players move between TFC and TFC II throughout the season.

Canadian Championship Results

2009

Team W D L GF GA GD PTS
Toronto FC 3 0 1 8 3 +5 9
Vancouver Whitecaps
3 0 1 5 1 +4 9
Montreal Impact
0 0 4 1 10 -9 0

2010

Team W D L GF GA GD PTS
Toronto FC 2 2 0 3 0 +3 8
Vancouver Whitecaps 0 4 0 2 2 0 4
Montreal Impact 0 2 2 2 5 -3 2

2011

Semifinal

First Leg

FC Edmonton

0–3

Toronto FC

Second Leg

Toronto FC

1–0

FC Edmonton

Result

TFC win 4–0 on aggregate
(combined goals)

Final

First Leg

Vancouver Whitecaps

1–1

Toronto FC

Second Leg

Toronto FC

2–1

Vancouver Whitecaps

Result

TFC win 3–2 on aggregate

2012

Semifinal

First Leg

Montreal Impact

0–0

Toronto FC

Second Leg

Toronto FC

2–0

Montreal Impact

Result

TFC win 2–0 on aggregate

Final

First Leg

Vancouver Whitecaps

1–1

Toronto FC

Second Leg

Toronto FC

1–0

Vancouver Whitecaps

Result

TFC win 2–1 on aggregate

2016

Semifinal

First Leg

Toronto FC

4–2

Montreal Impact

Second Leg

Montreal Impact

0–0

Toronto FC

Result

TFC win 4–2 on aggregate

Final

First Leg

Toronto FC

1–0

Vancouver Whitecaps

Second Leg

Vancouver Whitecaps

2–1

Toronto FC

Result

TFC win on away goals rule*

*In the event of an aggregate tie, goals scored on the road count double.

2017

Semifinal

First Leg

Ottawa Fury FC

2–1

Toronto FC

Second Leg

Toronto FC

4–0

Ottawa Fury FC

Result

TFC win 5–2 on aggregate

Final

First Leg

Montreal Impact

1–1

Toronto FC

Second Leg

Toronto FC

2–1

Montreal Impact

Result

TFC win 3–2 on aggregate

Hall of Fame Members

Jim Brennan (Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum)